The Government of India has done well to provide school education to even to the most remote regions of the country, and about 60 percent of children study in these government schools. The aim to provide these schools with better facilities is reflected in India’s New Education Policy (NEP) 2020.Partners are welcome in this effort, including NGOs and the private sector’sCorporate Social Responsibility (CSR) ventures.
A model created by S M Sehgal Foundation (Sehgal Foundation),an implementing NGO that has worked in seventy-three schools in four States, iscalled Transform Lives one school at a time.The model has two components,1) infrastructure enhancement,2) empowerment of the community toward education of the children. These interventions are fundamental to the endeavour of improving school education and creating a better future for rural youth, as good school infrastructure enables an effective and comfortable learning environment and reinforces a message of confidence and hope, and an empowered community sustains and enhances the efforts.
Under infrastructure enhancement, classrooms are refurbished,playground has trees and seasonal plants, drinking water facilities are constructed, separate functional toilets are provided for boys and girls, and boundary walls are repaired, among other features. Some smart classrooms are constructed in innovative designs and equipped with a smart TV that can be connected to any android smart phone through screen mirroring. Teachers use this feature to show audio-visual educational content to students to aid their learning.At the same time, people empowerment includes training of School Management Committee(SMC) and School Development and Management Committee (SDMC),formation and training of a group of community champions of the Village Development Committee (VDC), and the formation and training of a cadre of adolescent schoolchildren as youth champions. The empowered panchayat is enthused to ensure thatneed-based work related to improving their schools is completed and sustained.
As a result of these initiatives, school enrollment has increased by about 12 percent, and absenteeism has reduced by about 10 percent.The fact that the community becomes enthused in this process is obvious by the positive examples ofINR 100,000 to 200,000 contributions toward the future maintenance of the revitalized schools.
Typical actions taken by an enthused community, indicative of ownership, can be observed in Alwar district of Rajasthan, for which Sehgal Foundation has received the Bhamashah Award for four consecutive years (2016–2019), from the Education Department, Government of Rajasthan.
- SMC of Umrain has developed a Science Laboratory.
- VDC and SMC of Indergarh has reached out to an NGO and received more plants for its schoolground plantation.
- Student champions of Indergarh interacted with the District Education Officer and got a road built in front of their school.
- Libraries were set up with community contributionsby SMCs of multiple schools such asin Bhandwada, Prithvipura, Dehlawas, and others.
- In all schools, as an initiative toward sustainability, the VDC repairs the pipes of the rooftop water harvesting structuresin schools prior to monsoon and takes care of the plantation during school vacations.
- In Bejwad, forty-two students from private schools enrolled in the improved government school.
- In Ramgarh, the community contributed in cash and kind to purchase soil and level the playground, construct a staircase, and raise the walls of the toilet.
In general, about 70 percent of schools maintain their improved infrastructure. The first school to be renovated was in Santawadi of Nuh district, Haryana, which is still being well maintained by the people, eleven years since its renovation in 2009.The SMC and VDC hold regular 1–3 month meetings in a year to address school issues, even after Sehgal Foundation has completed the work and left the village. Their reward is the high regard in which they are held by the community. Youth champions take part in development initiatives of their village such asimmunization drives, school enrollment drives, and others. The trained SMC now makes annual School Development Plans for submission to the District Education Officer and the Bukharkha school in Nuh district of Haryana,has even received higher than allocated funds fromthe impressed government functionary.
While more funding is required for schools, behaviour change in the community is the most important factor. However, the main purpose and impact of this endeavour is intangible asan improved school learning environment is a reflection of the lives of the children and increases their sense of self-worth,positively moulds their personalities and memories, and gives them a feeling of dignity as they enjoy coming to their school. There is a need for more schools to be transformed through a Public Private Partnership (PPP) model so that these efforts can be scaled up and every child is provided with an opportunity to study in a school environment s/he loves. To extend the reach of Transform Lives one school at a timeto more schools will inspire more villages to emulate empowerment of schoolchildren and create a better future for India’s young people.
About the Authors:
Navneet Narwal has Law degree (Delhi Univ.), English master’s (Punjab Univ., Chandigarh), MBA (Sikkim Manipal Univ.), journalism diploma (Bhartiya Vidya Bhawan, Chandigarh); grassroots policy training. He is currently Associate Lead- Transform Lives at S M Sehgal. Foundation. Email: [email protected]
Ellora Mubashir has a science PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, and has worked in rural development as a communications specialist for about two decades. She is currently working with S M Sehgal Foundation. Email:[email protected]
Shipra Baduni is a graduate from tata institute of social sciences, masters in social work. She has extensive experience of working with youth across rural India on life skills education. Her interests lie at the intersection of technology and gender, and she wishes to promote digital awareness, especially amongst adolescent girls.Email:[email protected]